An appellate court in Arizona rejected the notion that companies in that state have a duty to protect family members from any exposure to toxic materials that their employees might bring home with them on their work clothes or on their person.
It was a blow for the family of Ernest Quiroz, who is believed to have developed mesothelioma due to secondary exposure to asbestos dust brought home by his father, who worked for Reynolds Metal Company.
According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, this is the first ruling of its kind in the state of Arizona and is one that will have advocates for asbestos disease sufferers shaking their heads in disbelief.
The survivors of Ernest Quiroz were quite surprised at the outcome as well.
In regards to the verdict, Appellate Judge Jon Thompson wrote that some states have allowed lawsuits based on so-called “take home exposure” but that Arizona laws are not written that way. He was speaking on behalf of the unanimous court.
“A landowner owes invitees a duty to provide reasonably safe premises and reasonably safe means of ingress and egress,” wrote Judge Thompson. However, he noted that this duty generally ends when a person leaves the property.
The original lawsuit stated that Quiroz’s father was regularly exposed to asbestos-containing products and machinery at the aluminum foil-making company, which now operates under the name Alcoa.
As such, asbestos fibers contaminated the man’s body, clothing, car, tools, and general surroundings. Son Ernest lived with his father in Maricopa County from 1952 to 1966 and later moved to California and then Michigan.
It is alleged that he inhaled toxic asbestos while residing with his father.
The suit stated that Reynolds had a duty “to avoid creating hazardous conditions on its property that would cause injury to people off the property.” Both the circuit court and the appellate court disagreed with that premise and the rules aren’t likely to change.
“The appellate judges also openly worried about what kind of precedent it would set to make companies responsible for the injuries that were the result of second-hand exposure to their chemicals or toxic products,” the article noted. “They said it could open the door for claims by people who came into contact with asbestos-tainted clothing in a taxicab, grocery store, dry cleaner, convenience store or laundromat.”
Thompson said he was aware that other states were finding in favor of the plaintiff in such suits. Recently, a Tennessee court ordered Alcoa to compensate an employee’s daughter who developed mesothelioma as a result of regular contact with her father’s work clothes.
A similar outcome happened in New Jersey though other states, like New York and Michigan, are more in line with Arizona’s take on secondhand exposure.